Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou left the possibility wide open that well known individuals could be taking part in the illegal drug trade in Cyprus, suggesting that competing criminal gangs may be cooperating with each other at a higher level.
Nicolaou spoke out on Friday about organised crime, a topic that has dominated news headlines in the last few weeks.
Despite police pointing out that serious crime overall has dropped in recent years, including murder down by 11%, the question of how well structured is the criminal enterprise that can evade justice has not been answered in the public domain.
Just this week, the man who placed in December 2017 a bomb in the car that belonged to the mother of Paphos Mayor Phedonas Phedonos, a well known whistleblower, was also found to be connected with 38-year-old drug lord Elias Mouzos.
"It is not enough to get to the perpetrators of one crime, we need to get to the top of the organisational structure"
But many arrests did not take place until after Phedonos accused the police publicly that some cops knew who were the drug criminals but would not do anything to stop them. Police dismissed the allegations, saying they were acting professionally and within the law.
Following Mouzos’ arrest and his cooperation with the police, more house searches were carried out and arrests made, including that of the bomb suspect and his brother. The two men were members of the Mouzos crew, but they caused friction in the relationship when their boss found out that they started selling bombs to other criminals.
Connecting the big dots
But despite competition between criminal gangs, the justice minister believes there are higher connections and police cannot solve the puzzle without proper tools, including new legislation that would allow law enforcement officials to monitor private conversations of suspected criminals.
In the latest covert campaigns, police officers conducted 190 house searches, searched 760 vehicles and 880 individuals. Over 20 arrests have been made and drugs and weapons have been confiscated.
But police still need to get closer.
“It is not enough to get to the perpetrators of one crime, but we need to get to the top of the organisational structure, which is why police insist that they must have the authority to monitor phone conversations,” the minister said.
Parliament members have at times spoken against giving more powers to police, primarily due to concerns of possible abuse and corruption.
But Nicolaou sees no other alternative.
“This [bill] is necessary for going after those who are behind the scenes,” the minister said.
All the way to the top
Taking the drug trade as an example, Nicolaou hinted that some well known business people could be involved in moving illegal drugs.
“There could be some people in the internal structure of some gangs and this would shock a lot people. I am not talking specifically here, just about the fact that in the pyramid structure of the drug trade there could individuals whom we admire for their business activities,” the minister said.
Nicolaou stopped short to say whether he believed these connections could be found outside the illegal drug trade, namely in the organised crime as a whole.
“We don’t have the capability now to find out if what you know goes all the way to the top,” he said.
The bill that would give police greater tools to monitor conversations heads to parliament on May 30.